Wednesday, January 4, 2012

You are politely requested to read this post thanks

The sign in the toilet says "please use the button to flush thanks",
which seems rather passive-aggressive once you get past the natural
reading that you should somehow flush thanks when you receive them.

This is what you might call a polite order, although it is not
actually all that polite. Were you to write "Please use the button to
flush", this would simply be a politer version of "Use the button to
flush", which is simply an instruction for those who may not otherwise
be able to figure out either what the button is for or whether it's
for constant use or just for the cleaning staff or whatever.

I dislike passive-aggressive signs. "Thank you for not smoking" is
grossly offensive. The "thank you" is fake courteous, which is at the
other end of the courtesy scale to really being courteous. It means
"Don't smoke", not even "Please don't smoke", which would seem to
offer you the option.

I believe this kind of sign was invented to avoid the awkwardness of
the passive voice in signs like "Smoking is forbidden". Who forbids
it? is the question that springs to mind. One is led to believe that
God himself made it a commandment. Indeed, I believe the world would
be a slightly better place if it read "We forbid you from smoking" or,
should it be in a train station "Q Rail forbids you from smoking", or
"This hospital forbids you from smoking". Or just "No smoking" or
"Don't smoke here".

There's worse: the passive-aggressive command with passive voice.
"Patrons are reminded that the use of mobile phones during a
performance is forbidden." This is as bad as English gets while still
being recognisably English. If I knew you forbade using a mobile
phone, I won't have forgotten. If I didn't, you need to forbid me more
directly:

"Please don't use your mobile phone during the film."
"Hawthorne Cinema forbids you from using your mobile phone during the film."

Although the latter is on the face of it discourteous, I contend that
it is politer than the version the cinema prefers.

Note that in my version I have preferred using a verb or a verbal noun
over the construction "the x of". Do this where the terms are
equivalent. ("The end of Rome's hegemony..." and "Ending Rome's
hegemony..." are not equivalents. I will write a post explaining why
at some point.) It will improve your writing probably as much as any
other thing you can do.

5 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I didn'r bother reading it. My 4 or 5 gmail accounts are trashed. You THINK YOU"RE ANGRY. As the moron Ronald Reagan said, MAKE MY DAY! AnD YOU AIN"Y Seen NOTHINYET. The demented fool.
Attention Zenners!
I'm online but I can't post anything because optus doesn't support usenet and ..no email.
I've been cut off int week as prophesied. Shut the apertures of thy face for it is a stink to come but net here
They must wait because I am so angry oh Prais God anonymous is swupported.

January 4, 2012 at 4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One last if you don't do it you can have no part who am I I'm nothing as you know. enough.

January 4, 2012 at 4:59 PM  
Blogger Dr Zen said...

Yo Bob, comment your phone number if you have one and I'll text you. It's time we hung out and drank a couple of beers?

January 4, 2012 at 6:26 PM  
Blogger Dr Zen said...

Or email it to the usual addy if you can get an email together.

January 4, 2012 at 6:26 PM  
Blogger Don said...

"No Smoking / No Fumar" is about all I ever see. I agree that "Thank you for not smoking", which I see upon occasion, is weak. I'm not smoking but they needn't thank me for it, I ain't not smoking for their sake but for mine. I'd rather thank them for not letting anyone else smoke. I support the right to, just not near me when I'm eating.

January 5, 2012 at 2:23 AM  

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